Category Archives: dvd

What I’ve Been Watching: DVD – Chico and Rita

Article first published as DVD Review: Chico and Rita on Blogcritics.

ChicoAndRitaChico and Rita is an animated film which tells the love story of two musicians from Cuba. Chico is a very talented pianist in search of a singer who can match his ability. While out one night he spots just the woman he is looking for, Rita, whose voice is not the only thing he falls in love with.

The film is beautifully drawn by Spanish artist Javier Mariscal. It has a style which is a superb fit for the music and colour of the film; a loose, fluid animation to fit with the loose, fluid soundtrack.

Unsurprisingly, the music is incredibly important to the film. As much as anything else this is a love letter to the havana music scene of the late ’40s and ’50s. Infused within the narrative of the ever-changing relationship between Chico and Rita, is the narrative of the development of the jazz scene. In particular, the depiction of the genre’s most famous real-life musicians from the period adds authenticity to the scene it is trying to capture.

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What I’ve Been Watching: DVD – Dahmer Vs Gacy

Article first published as DVD Review: Dahmer vs Gacy on Blogcritics.

Dahmer vs GacyThere’s something to be said for the pastiche or spoof movie. At its best it produces gems like Shaun of the Dead, Planet Terror, and Airplane!. At its worst Date Movie, Epic Movie, and Meet the Spartans.

Creating these movies is always a risk. The worst spoof movies hope that merely mentioning the ‘crazy’ things that happen in other films will be enough to make audiences’ sides split. They also fail to actually give the audience an ‘in’ by ensuring the characters actually care about what’s going on.

Dahmer vs Gacy is undoubtedly a spoof movie. Its plot concerns two of America’s most notorious serial killers, Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy, having been cloned by a top-secret government lab. Inevitably they escape, and killing ensues.

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What I’ve Been Watching: Executive Koala

executive_koala.jpgBilled as “The most shocking psycho koala horror movie,” Executive Koala is like no film you’ve ever seen. Unless, that is, you’ve seen other films from director, Minoru Kawasaki, such as Calamari Wrestler and The World Sinks Except Japan.

The movie stars a human-sized koala trying to make it in the corporate world. Everything seems to be going well: he’s about to secure a deal with the Koreans, he’s got a beautiful (human) girlfriend, and his boss (a rabbit) considers him his right-hand man/koala.

Then his girlfriend gets brutally murdered. The police suspect our titular hero. As memories of his first marriage come flooding back, could it be that this cute koala is in fact a psycho killer?

Executive Koala is a whole heap of crazy. In many ways it has a lot in common with the types of Best Worst Movies we review every month on the podcast. In that its enjoyment comes from laughing at the absurdity of what’s happening on screen. However, unlike a Best Worst Movie, that’s entirely the director’s intention.

It reminded me a lot of the films of Stephen Chow, such as Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. As well as Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. By that I mean, it completely understands the genre it is sending up, and seeks to put as unique a twist as possible on it.

Examples of its sense of humour include a puppet squirrel which magically appears at the high security prison “Alkatraza” with some helpful items; the koala’s red glowing Terminator-like eyes when it gets angry; and an opening title sequence which includes the lines:

“Nothing gets him down
Extramarital affairs, getting a divorce,
The world is beautiful.”

Executive Koala is a film that’s difficult to fully describe. However, chances are if you like the idea of a koala’s attempts to be successful in business, while clearing his name for murder, then you’ll probably enjoy the rest of the film.

It’s probably worth including the trailer for the film just to give you a further taste of what to expect (Note there’s no subtitles, not that it would really make much difference):

And because it includes one of the most awesome lyrics of all time (see above), here’s the opening titles (with English subtitles):

What I’ve Been Watching: DVD – Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs & Predator

cloudy_with_a_chance_of_meatballs_ver3.jpgCloudy With A Chance of Meatballs
In my review of 2009, I noted that the quality of animations this year has been remarkably high. Up, Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Bolt all being among my favourite films of that year.

One that I didn’t get a chance to see was Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs – a film penned by two writers on the first season of television’s How I Met Your Mother.

Cloudy… tells the story of Flint Lockwood, a young man determined to make a living as an inventor, and put the island of Swallow Falls back on the map.

His latest creation is something which turns water into any food he desires, and after a near disaster it works: causing the sky to rain cheeseburgers.

The remainder of the movie follows our young hero as he copes with the pressure of being the town’s new hero, tries to get the approval of his father, and win the heart of the weathergirl sent to cover the extraordinary new weather system the town’s been experiencing.

As with Pixar’s movies, the joy of this film comes not so much from the plot, but rather from the creativity and attention to detail evident on screen.

In many ways the film is a love letter to invention and creativity. The movie not only starring an inventor, but also having so many little creative touches that allow us to be part of this strange, madcap, and inviting world. The way all these parts work together reminded me a lot lot of the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Aside from that, it has a lot of very quick visual and side gags. The funniest moments in the movie, are often little visual effects in the background, or seemingly throwaway lines the characters fail to react to.

Despite being a movie that will certainly appeal to kids, it doesn’t surprise me that the film has developed quite a cult following with adults as well. I can see why. Its fast-paced, imaginative style clearly resonating with an audience outside of which one might expect.

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs is a surprisingly fun and refreshing film. A film that oozes originality and imagination from every pore. Go rent it!

mctiernan_predator_poster_50297.jpgPredator
Following on from the watching of Commando a few weeks ago, comes Predator, a film with equal amounts of explosions, guns, and of course Arnie.

The difference is that while Commando is a fun, but completely uninspiring affair, Predator has some genuinely interesting elements to it.

The first third of the movie is fairly irrelevant to the rest of the film plot-wise, but does a great job of setting up the pedigree of the elite squad that’s been set into the jungle and the patience of the strange Predator that will hunt them for the remaining two-thirds of the picture.

Aside from this smart creative choice, where the film really shines in the thought behind and design of its title character. Between its infamous mask, thermal imaging, glowing blood, and invisibility it really is a creature its difficult to forget.

Another nice element is the decision not to give the predator any back story: it hunts, it kills, whether it’s an alien or otherwise doesn’t really matter. There’s something really refreshing about this inventive simplicity.

Finally, the action scenes absolutely do everything they should for this type of film: high-adrenaline, spectacle and one-liners all on show.

The final scene between Arnie and the Predator is certainly the highlight: as the former combines his brains and brawn in his final attempt to escape the clutches of the strange and vicious creature.

Predator is much like the antagonist around which the film is based: the best at what it does. While hardly pushing the boat out in terms of what an action movie normally does, it nevertheless has enough great individual elements to make it a must see for fans of the genre.

What I’ve Been Watching: DVD – Philadelphia & A Prophet

MPW-33995.jpegPhiladelphia

It was 1993, the world was coming to terms with the emerging AIDS epidemic, a disease many found it hard to separate from homosexuality.

Inspired by a court case (which ironically it took a court case to prove it was inspired by), Philadelphia tells the story of Andrew Beckett(Tom Hanks) who has been dismissed from his job after his employers, a law firm, figure out he’s got AIDS.

He tries to get legal representation, and the only one who will take his case is Joe Miller(Denzel Washington), a married man with more than a hint of homophobia towards Beckett.

What follows is the court case which takes up much of the movie, with witnesses and cross-examinations providing the twists and turns one expects from court room drama.

The biggest compliment I can pay to Philadelphia is that I hope it becomes redundant. Unlike Brokeback Mountain, this comes across a movie which is written primarily to change minds. As such, there are some dramatic misfires, including a climax to the case that makes no use of the apparent tension the film has been building to.

As far as the issues of homosexuality and AIDS go, they are well handled. Tom Hanks earning his first oscar for the brave, determined and ambitious Bennett. His portrayal doing a fairly flawless job of addressing the stigma attached to both AIDS and homosexuality at the time.

I can see how Philadelphia was an important film at the time, forcing people to confront the issues at its heart and actually consider the suffering of people with AIDS: both physically and socially. Seventeen years on, it feels like as society’s attitude to the disease has largely moved on, so has the impact of the film. As such, as one looks closer at underlying narrative, one sees it lacks the strength to make this a truly great film.

a-prophet-poster2.jpgA Prophet

Knowing Hollywood, A Prophet, is going to be remade pretty soon. It tells the fall and rise of Malik El Djebena, a 19 year-old whose been convicted for six years for apparently assaulting a police officer.

An Arab, with no friends on the inside, he struggles to fit in. That is, until the prison’s main gang makes him an offer he literally can’t refuse: kill a snitch, or be killed himself.

The movie’s been compared to The Godfather, and for obvious reasons. Not only is Malik’s character arc remarkably similar to Michael’s in Coppola’s film, the pacing, scope and length of the movie all have a lot in common with one of the most critically acclaimed movies of all time.

The movie’s ambition is its biggest strength. It’s difficult to get a handle on, since you often think it’s going one direction but quickly changes pace to another. Every ten minutes something really significant seems to happen, forcing you to rethink what you thought you knew about who the protagonist was becoming at that point.

Stylistically, it effortlessly switches between gritty realism and some very imaginative dream sequences involving Malik’s late brother.

For me this was a film that made everything it did look easy. A film that makes you wonder “why can’t everyone make stories like this?”. It’s not that there’s anything especially new about the story or characters, but rather that like a well made watch, all its cogs worked together perfectly to produce something spectacular.

The Prophet is a violent, formidable, epic film. It works by concentrating on a smart, conflicted but ambitious character who’s doing his best to make the most of the circumstances he’s found himself in. Most films that get compared to The Godfather, are completely overshadowed by it, The Prophet may not be better, but it at least manages to be in the same league.

What I’ve Been Watching – DVD – Breathless & No Distance Left To Run

breathless-poster.jpgBreathless

Godard’s Breathless is one of the most important movies of the New Wave Era in 1950s/60s cinema.

Simply, it tells the story of a man on the run from the law after shooting a police officer. His aim is to persuade his American lover to flee Paris with him.

Then again, it doesn’t really tell that story at all.

With long scenes of dialogue sandwiched between short scenes of action, it’s obvious Godard is not so much interested in the plot, but instead in experimenting with a different way of telling quite a straight forward story.

Like a great sprawling river, Breathless meanders towards its conclusion without being too concerned about normal conventions like pacing and a three act structure.

A good twenty minutes is spent in a hotel room where the two main characters talk about life, love and everything in between. Some information pays off later, but most is just like any conversation you might hear between two people: some statements are insightful, some not, some entertaining, some not. It’s strange, but never boring, and never leaves the viewer with a firm grasp of what’s going to happen next.

Such scenes may remind viewers of the famous piece of dialogue in Pulp Fiction where Jackson and Travolta discuss a “Royale with Cheese”. The information garnered in both scenes serves no particular purpose, either in terms of the plot or character development.

However, one might argue, Tarintino’s scene is at least in keeping with the pace of the movie. Godard seems to have no such concerns about the length or position of such a scene. You could argue his only rule for making this movie was to break as many conventions as possible.

Godard is a director who divides audiences. He doesn’t seem to make movies as entertainment, but rather as works of ‘art'(whatever that means). His movies should be watched by those who want their views of film to be challenged, and who are willing to put everything they thought they knew about narrative cinema to one side for the duration.

No Distance Left to Run (2010).jpgNo Distance Left To Run

The first album I ever bought was Blur’s The Great Escape. It was released at the height of their Britpop fame: when arguments about Blur versus Oasis, and American versus British music seemed to matter.

No Distance Left To Run tells the story of the band’s formation in the late eighties right up to their reunion gigs in 2009.

It goes behind the scenes with the band as they prepare for and then perform at both Glastonbury and Hyde Park, the latter of which NME awarded the Best Live Event of 2009.

Now in their early forties, the band were able to speak very honestly about everything – from trying to make it big in the early nineties, being the most successful band in the country at the middle of the decade, and then going in a completely different direction in 1997 with Blur and their subsequent albums.

Most interesting of the band members is Coxon, who plays the introverted genius of the band. There’s a sense in the movie, that much as him and Albarn were worlds apart personality-wise, they somehow brought out the best in each other. Coxon convincing Albarn to go in a completely different direction after Great Escape, opening up Albarn’s eyes to the other types of music he could make.

There’s obvious pain and dejection as Coxon speaks about his split from the band in 2002, coming as a result of his ongoing battle with alcohol. Other members of the band speak of their regret over everything that happened: without giving quick fix answers about what caused the band to split.

Aside from the interviews with Coxon, another interesting insight is how the band found out about each other’s lives through each other’s songs or books. Albarn’s break-up becoming a reality to the rest of the band through the lyrics of Tender and No Distance Left To Run. Alex James’ love and respect for Coxon being articulated to him in the form of James’ autobiography, and helping convince the latter to get back with his old friends again.

The band’s relationship is best summed up by Rowntree, the drummer: “all four of us have got one sister and no brothers. We’ve become each other’s surrogate brothers, and that brings with it an ability to understand each other very deeply – and an ability to push each other’s buttons at will. ” Unlike other band reunions which seem to be done purely for financial reasons, it seemed like this one was done for emotional ones. A way of coming to terms with the band that had dominated more than ten years of their lives.

No Distance Left To Run is a movie that is probably only appealing to fans of Blur, and I can understand completely why those not interested in the band may want to give it a miss. However, I’m certain the tales of Britpop, Blur versus Oasis and so on will give those who remember the era a great sense of nostalgia for when the charts mattered and music formed culture.

What I’ve Been Watching – DVD – The Fountain and Sweet Sixteen

The_Fountain - Poster.jpgThe Fountain

Aronofsky’s The Fountain is one of the most divisive films of the last ten years. Some see it as an enchanting, sophisticated fairytale; others as an ambitious but deeply flawed misfire.

It tells three stories in three different times: past, present and future. Hugh Jackman plays the male lead in all three tales. In each case as he tries to use the Tree of Life to ensure he and his love, portrayed by Rachel Weisz, can remain together.

There’s something altogether dreamlike about The Fountain: its use of an orange/yellow palette, the way characters speak, the way it floats between its three narratives. For me, it was like your best dreams – you don’t want to wake up and upon reflection it’s difficult to tell why.

Of course the movie wouldn’t succeed if it was merely a visual, dreamy work. At its heart is a painful story of a man trying to extend the life of his dying wife and wasting the precious time they have together as a result. There’s something deceptively simple about this message, given all the confusion the film seems to throw at the viewer. Perhaps that’s the point – some things in life are confusing, but death isn’t: it’s deceptively easy to understand but almost impossible to comprehend.

One can view The Fountain as a piece of pretentious nonsense. A director with too much time on his hands to create this strange, hallucinogenic
world. However, it’s nothing if not ambitious, and in a movie-making environment that seems to be dominated by sequels, reboots and remakes I think Aronofsky should be applauded for making something so unique.

The Fountain was a movie I liked without really feeling the need to justify why I was so taken by it. I’m sure it does have a strong message about life, death, love and bereavement. However, I’ll probably have to re-watch it a few more times before I can say precisely what that message is.

sweet_sixteen_ver2.jpgSweet Sixteen

Not to be confused with My Super Sweet Sixteen, Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen is about anything but a spoiled teenager trying to throw the biggest, bestest birthday party ever.

Instead the main character, Liam’s, aspirations are merely to buy a caravan away from his current house in Greenock. His vision is that he and his mother, who’s currently in jail, can live away from her current boyfriend Stan, a drug dealer.

In order to realise his dream, he needs £6,000. To get the money, he makes the risky choice of stealing drugs from Stan and selling them himself. What follows is a coming-of-age drama, as Liam gets ‘head-hunted’ by the kingpin of the area to continue selling drugs: something it seems he has a knack for: his plucky nature and entrepreneurial spirit making up for his lack of grit.

Loach’s depiction of Greenock, on the outskirts of Glasgow, is the film’s greatest strength: giving you a great sense of the dialect and attitudes of the people who live there. They swear, they fight, they laugh, and there’s a real sense of believability in Liam’s rather naive dream of living in a caravan by the sea.

There’s also a fairly clear political/social message to this film. All the adults depicted act as negative role models for Liam: enslaved to drugs, whether as users or dealers. The only sense of hope we get is from his sister Chantelle, herself a young mother who’s determined to give her son a better life that she and Liam got from their parents.

The film’s message seems to be that the older generation have mucked everything up. It’s up to this new generation to make the right, difficult choices so they don’t end up just like their parents. It suggests the only way change can happen is from the individual – all the kids depicted having no outside forces to point them on the strait and narrow.

Overall, Sweet Sixteen is a worryingly convincing depiction of a teenager who has been left to fend for himself without any real clue about how to do so. Like the best social commentary, it asks lots of questions but offers few answers: forcing us to think again the next time we are so quick to judge the ‘feral’ youth behind the headlines.